Midlife Myths & Realities: Andrea M. Slominski, Ph.D.
On the Heroine’s Journey of our lives, we meet so many people, make friends, and share experiences.
And if we’re lucky, we get to nurture friendships that last a lifetime. These deep and lasting relationships, built on shared experiences, can help to keep us anchored to ourselves and our history.
“I finally understood how you could love someone and let your relationship with them go.”
The adventures that we have, first in school, then finally braving the world on our own, creating a household, having careers, and perhaps a family, comprise our full and busy lives. All of these contribute to the plot points and chapters of our personal myth, narrative, or life story.
As we grow and mature, we play many different characters in our life story, such as friend, colleague, lover, mother, business partner, wife, life partner, nurse, chef, housekeeper, chauffer, teacher, and so forth.
As we age, all of these characters remain as players in our story, along with those people we have known and cared about over the years.
It sounds a little ridiculous at my age to say I had an epiphany about friendship, relationship, and memory the other day, but I did. I finally understood how you could love someone and let your relationship with them go. And you can still love them.
This was a revelation to me as a recovering codependent.
Some Friendships Aren’t Worth Maintaining:
I was on a walk when this realization finally came to rest in my heart, like an exhausted dove, head tucked, finally settling in for a rest. I can love someone and know—that even though I love them—maintaining a friendship with them is not healthy for me.
When I analyzed why I felt the way I did, I realized that thinking about an upcoming contact with these folks brought up no joy. I knew that they would likely ask me for something, some research, some idea, some time, some-thing, something that I could do for them, or help them with, or consult about, or . . .
Yet, the energy asked was never equally returned. I often felt I was working hard to fulfill their needs in our “friendship.” Every time they asked for something new, my heart went to, “Sigh”. . . “Ok, I love them, so of course, I should want to help . . . because that’s what you do for people you love, right? “
“If we think we can help, we are compelled to try.”
Actually, no. It’s what I and other codependents do because we want to help or fix every-thing for those we love. If we think we can help, we are compelled to try. It’s so deep; it’s almost an instinct. (Although some would name it a complex, they’d be closer to the mark.)
Developing New Boundaries:
I’m continually learning from life’s circumstances that not everyone thinks, feels, or sees the world the way I do, and that’s ok. Not everyone defines friendship the way I do, either. So, now I’m choosing to limit some relationships to what is authentic, cordial, and caring but with new boundaries. Woo Hoo! This is very freeing!
I’m not saying I only want to engage with people who think and feel like I do. However, I’ve come to understand that my definition of authentic friendship includes a reciprocal exchange of energy between friends. This includes mutual support, deep caring, shared values, an exchange of ideas, and equitable time invested in maintaining the friendship.
The Psychology dictionary defines relationship this way. “Particular type of connection between two or more entities or phenomena. A binding, usually continuous association between individuals wherein one has some influence on feelings or actions of the other.”
This explains relationship perfectly, especially the part about one entity having influence over the other and the arrangement not necessarily being an equitable exchange. This is the energy exchange between companies and employees, company to company, organization to organization, donor to charity, and so forth. And, I guess, even for people, it’s pretty accurate.
I realized I have had many relationships in my life where I have given much more than I received. I didn’t respect my boundaries. So, this definition works well in unequal situations.
The APA Dictionary of Psychology defines friendship this way:
“As we age, this is no small thing, keeping in touch with those who share your life’s memories.”
n. a voluntary relationship between two or more people that is relatively long-lasting and in which those involved tend to be concerned with meeting the others’ needs and interests as well as satisfying their own desires. Friendships frequently develop through shared experiences in which the people involved learn that their association with one another is mutually gratifying.
This description is a little sterile for my experience of true and lasting friendships, but then it’s the APA’s definition. Part of my epiphany was the realization that I was feeling an obligation to long-term relationships that I had considered to be friendships. WOAH.
The Development Of Stronger Boundaries:
After all, I had a history with these people. I have loved or at least cared about, them for years. I was deeply invested in the length of time we had known each other, our common experiences, and shared memories of what I consider to be some of the best times of my life.
As we age, this is no small thing, keeping in touch with those who share your life’s memories. Each of these people is a thread in the net that connects you to the other times of your life. But time changes people and their perspectives, and sometimes it can even transform one’s core values.
Life can be brutal, and no one escapes unscathed. None of us are who we once were. Yet, we are all those selves, plus many more. Thankfully, good memories remain untouched treasures reflecting our impressions of the past.
I hope that as I continue to age, I’ll develop more wisdom, that my capacity for compassion continues to deepen and that I’ll expand my capacity for love. Time will tell. For now, I am welcoming stronger boundaries and a few real soul-level friendships.
About the Author:
Andrea M. Slominski, Ph.D., is an author, speaker, and women’s midlife coach. During her dissertation research and study, she explored the new life stage for women that has emerged over the past 100 years.
Naming this new life stage, from ages 45-70, Regency, Dr. A. has spoken at conferences, published articles, and coached women to make the most of their emerging power years. Dr. A. guides women 45+ through the often-tumultuous transformations during perimenopause, midlife, and menopause. She uses tools that include creativity, story, mythology, imagination, ceremony, and ritual. If you need support for your Regency years, including all the changes of midlife and menopause, I’m here for you. Email me at [email protected]